Ijewere and John, Great Patriots

Guest Columnist               

Pat Utomi

It has been a season  of sad news. During this holiday season just past I lost as many as eight close friends and associates. Among them were two remarkable gentlemen I chatted with almost every Sunday.  Their passing means the car park for the church of Assumption in Falomo, Lagos will miss plenty hearty light banter after refreshing worship.

Dr Thomas Asuquo John and Mr Emmanuel Itoya Ijewere and I  attended the same Mass on Sundays, for decades.  The last holiday season we did not get to say Merry Christmas or Happy New Year. Both men had exchanged parishes from the church militant where we chose same place and time for Sunday worship, to the church triumphant where my imagination is too limited to comprehensively contemplate. All I have on this side are memories from two great lives. 

Dr Asuquo John’s career peaked as Group Managing Director of The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC). Ijewere on the other hand was a highly regarded professional accountant and Tax Consultant who had been President of ICAN and provided leadership to the IOD and service organizations like the Nigerian Red  Cross. He had a noble  heart for social causes. These were transitions that translated into yawning chasm in the social firmament.

 A time to mourn and a time to be sober coming down as a heavy veil seperating a time of car park laughter from a time to question the purpose of being.

Dr John is captured forever on the pages of two books I authored twenty years apart. The first book titled Managing Uncertainty – Competition and Strategy in Emerging Economies was published in 1998. My research for the book had started three years before. It’s focus was on the competition doctrine and sustainable superior performance of the firm given the social, political and economic pressures in the environment.

For me a troubling case of underperformance because of state monopoly was the NNPC and I scheduled to interview some former NNPC executives.

When I arrived to interview Dr John who a few years earlier was Group Managing Director of NNPC I braced myself for a defensive rationalization of the group as a public monopoly. Outcome was dramatically different.

When I posed the question of the need to privatize NNPC and seperate its regulator role from the operator one  Dr John feigned surprise for one brief minute and said ‘what do you mean by privatizing NNPC. Is it  not privatized already.’

It was time for me to be the one looking surprised.

I must have missed the privatiztion. Could they have  done it so suickly that I missed it.

He laughed and  said NNPC has always been  privatized. The problem is that those  who own it did not pay for it.

Twenty two yers later I reported in the book Why Not – Citizenship, State Capture, Creeping Fascism and the Criminal Hijack of Politics in Nigeria; a conversation with Chief Sony Odogwu at the the 70th Birthday of Dr John’s wife.

Dr John was the consummate professional and business leader fondly  hailed by his team by his initials TMJ. But  Dr Thomas Maurice Asuquo John was a simple and modest man who accomplished without fanfare and attention to himself. Some people I know say of him that he is the only one who built a rffinery and returnd change to the Treasury. He was serious yet jovial, frank yet diplomatic and circumspect on certain matters. He was thus able to serve on the NNPC Board in latter years as alternate chairman.

That did not stop car park chitchat about what I  called the trouble of the week or the wahala of the day.

Always the gentleman he would sigh and urge God’s will.

His driver pulls up early and his car is hardly out of sight when the Puff Puff man arrives with puff puff still hot from the giant frying  pan with which women from a church Women’s league earned money for their charity work by wrapping the flour dough with TLC so that the people who patronize them neither think of cholesterol nor their tongue needing airconditilng to welcome  the hot snack, not to talk of the actual street value of the puff puff they were payng a premium for.

Mr Emmauel Ijewere always had more than one pack of the Sunday treat for me. I showed my gratitude by voraciously consuming them.

Ijewere was a man of the people  and several others got their own priced puff puff.

He had been Vice  Chairman of the Parish Pastoral Council for many years and greeted all, young and old, big man and small guy with a smile comparable to an American running for Mayor in a small town.

Yet this ssme man was a policy wong chairing several  national committees on issues in the economy.

He worried so much about Nigeria and how poor leadership was doing harm to young people and their future.

This led him to supportkng the founding of a Think Tank that would be part of the Big Tent and ultimately he served as Chairman of the Big Tent Presidential Campaign Council for Peter Obi.

I am so diminished by the passing of these two men whose humanity was expressed in the many deeds of their every day life.

I once  fillipantly said in a 1991 interview that the essence of being is the pursuit of immortality. This immortality was of two forms – material and spiritual.

Material immortality I said came from a prolonged place in the memory deposited in the heads and hearts of men from the work of brave souls departed. And spiritual immortalty was to see God face to face and get that wecome good and faithful servant embrace.

My wish andvprayer for them both is the double immortality of the material and spiritual

They have taken there final bows on the stage if life, as we sll will, someday. We know the bows were deep triumphant bows. May the wind from the bows power them to a place of peaceful rest.

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